July 16th, 2010 by Rosemary
Keeping current in YA

When people find out that I write for teens, one of the most common questions (after “Oh, like Twilight?”), is how I keep current with what teens are up to and into.

The Internet, of course. It’s not just an excuse for the amount of time I spend reading blogs and twittering and watching Funny or Die. (Okay, maybe a little bit.)

To write for teens, you do need to know how to work the Internets, if for no other reason than to grasp the fantastic rate of information exchange that is a given for young people today. They are virtually never disconnected.*

And yes, you need to understand the current trends, and get a feel for the way teens talk (write) and how they spend their time.

But more important than understanding what is important to teens NOW is understanding what is important to teens STILL.

The most important resource for a writer for teens is your own memory of what it was like to BE a teen. I have readers younger AND older than me who tell me “It’s like Maggie Quinn went to my school.” That’s because all schools have nerds and bullies and PE teachers who make unfit girls do stuff they don’t wanna. These aren’t cliches. (Well, they don’t have to be) They are things that never change.

The other thing that hasn’t changed since you and I were teens (no matter when that was) is emotional and social factors of that age, having one foot in childhood and one in adulthood:

Acceptance. Finding and building relationships outside one’s family. Figuring out one’s place in the world, how to make a difference. Proving one is worthy of trust and responsibility. Taking up the mantle of adulthood.

Harry Potter barely spends any time in the Muggle world with modern trends. It’s “The Princess Diaries” not “The Princess Blog.” Technology and trends aren’t what that make those books appealing to teens (and adults).

I’m trying to remember if Bella Swan ever even used a cell phone or the Internet. (I know she did in the movie.) But it is immaterial if she Googled “vampire” or looked it up in a book at the library; Twilight is a phenomenon because the emotional core of that story resonated with teens (and their mothers).

To make your book seem ‘current’ don’t rely on trends and fads. Fall back on your memory of what it was like to be a teen. The rest is just window dressing.

*In fact, it’s sometimes hard to cut characters off from help nowadays. I’m a little ashamed at how many cell phone batteries have conveniently (for me) gone dead, or how there just happens to be no cell reception right where the monsters live.

Be Sociable, Share!

4 comments to “Keeping current in YA”

  1. Dawn
     · July 16th, 2010 at 8:56 am · Link

    This is pure awesome. I loved this post – so much advice crammed into a small amount of space! And a reminder for those of us hovering over a YA concept.

  2. Rosemary
     · July 16th, 2010 at 9:15 am · Link

    Thanks. And OMG I can’t believe the typos in this post. Gah! Thanks for not holding them against me!

  3. Lynn M
     · July 16th, 2010 at 1:04 pm · Link

    Bella did both – she Googled “vampires” but she also went to the bookstore to hunt down a book about the Quileutes, IIRC. So your point is very valid.

    My biggest problem with YA books is walking the fine line of being trendy enough to root the story in the real world but knowing that by the time the story is even finished, those trends will be so five minutes ago the book will be hopelessly dated already. I’ve pretty much committed to avoiding any teen slang since keeping up with that is impossible. The other day I was reading a YA in which the characters kept talking about their My Space pages and I shook my head the whole time, thinking that now it’s all about Facebook and pretty soon it will be all about something else. You simply cannot keep up.

  4. Adventures in Children's Publishing
     · July 18th, 2010 at 7:12 pm · Link

    Excellent post. I love the “understanding what is important to teens NOW is understanding what is important to teens STILL” line. I hope you don’t mind if we include this in our Friday round-up of best articles for writers.


Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

Subscribe without commenting